Struggling Spaniard? Rubio’s Contributions Go Beyond the Box Score

October 28th, 2018 | by Riley Gisseman

Rubio’s defense has been superb, even when his shot wasn’t falling. (Tim Warner via espn.com)

Before Ricky Rubio broke out of his shooting slump with a 28-point performance on Saturday it appeared to most observers that he had gotten off to a rough start. The 28-year-old veteran point guard went into Saturday’s contest having made just 17 percent of his twos, 29 percent from three, and was turning the ball over 3.3 times per game — a career high.

Yet Rubio’s game falls on so much more than just counting stats, after all, in a game where he shot 1-for-8 from the field and tallied six turnovers to his six assists, the Jazz were a plus-15 when Ricky was on the court and a minus-4 when he sat. Part of this is due to Donovan Mitchell’s resurgence in a 38-point showing, and Rubio playing a large portion of his minutes alongside Mitchell, but part is also due to the movement in the offense when Rubio shares the court with his teammates.

Off-Ball Movement

As Rubio has struggled to turn shooting opportunities into points on the scoreboard, a smart Houston defense decided to collapse on Mitchell as he would drive to the basket. Rubio, however, understands how to adjust the offense to take advantage of this. Watch as Rubio moves Jae Crowder to the corner, setting a screen on Jae’s defender to free him up in the process.

Impromptu backscreen

Mitchell doesn’t find him, but freeing up Crowder – a better three-point shooter than Rubio – and putting him in a high-percentage three-point situation is the type of play that is making Rubio remain a positive on the court despite poor counting stats. The vast majority (92%) of Crowder’s 3-point attempts this year have been either open or wide open, by the NBA’s definition, which may help explain his improved 3-point shooting1

Finding the Open Man

Though he’s had a few turnovers that have been un-Rubio-like, Ricky is still running the offense masterfully, generating open look after open look. Here, he drives and dishes to an open Ingles which is something we’ll see time and time again over the course of the season.

Skip pass to the corner

And twice more, Rubio stays patient with the ball, not making a rash decision to try to shoot himself out of his slump, whether at the rim in traffic or from three, and he finds the open man cutting to the basket for what would typically be easy buckets. In the first he “Nashes,” Utah’s term for that search dribble below and around the rim rather than forcing a shot. In the latter, you can see him survey the court and recognize that they have a five on four advantage on the drive, he stops, waits for a second, and finds the unguarded man.

“Nashing” with his eyes up

Hitting the trail man

Defense

Defensively, Rubio has been nothing short of terrific. Rubio’s main assignment in the first four games of the season was to check the opposing team’s primary offensive creator: DeAaron Fox, Steph Curry, Mike Conley, and James Harden. Those four, when guarded by Ricky, scored just 33 points on 43 scoring opportunities. That’s 0.767 points per scoring opportunity. League average is 1.1.  In a season where Utah has relatively under performed defensively, allowing points per 100 possessions that is still outside the top five2They’re currently 6th with 103.5 opponent points per 100.3, Rubio shutting down opposing stalwarts — including MVP-level guards — has been a breath of fresh air. Watch as Rubio manages to stay in front of Harden while defending legally with his arms to the sky, and aids a Harden miss. 

Challenging the MVP

And again, as he does the same, but this time breaks up a pass and immediately starts a fast break, which he caps it off with a tricky look-away pass.

Reading the pass

What these clips show is that Rubio can appear to be struggling from a box score perspective, but still be helping his team in a number of ways. The Jazz would surely prefer the hot-shooting Rubio they got on Saturday, but even when counting stats say he’s struggling, Rubio finds other ways to make the Jazz better.

Riley Gisseman

Riley is a fixture in the Jazz social media community, a frequent creator of spicy memes, thoughtful Reddit posts and awesome videos. He got his start writing about the Jazz at 12 years old, when he contributed to the franchise's own UtahJazz360 platform.

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